12/31/2013 08:45 EST

City Cycling May Be Hurting Your Lungs, Study Finds

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Urban cycling, while good for the environment, may pose a risk your health, a new Dublin study has found.

Cycling in congested cities could do more harm than good to your heart and lungs, due to the breathing in of dangerous pollutants in the air, the study found.

While pedestrians are exposed as well, cyclists exert themselves more and breathe more heavily, which increases their risk, The Australian reports. Problems include breathing in exhaust fumes as well as tiny particles generated by vehicle brakes and tires.

The study, led by Marguerite Nyhan of Trinity College, recruited 32 fit, healthy cyclers who opted for mostly traffic-free routes. A separate 2011 U.K. study also found that urban cyclists may be inhaling high levels of black soot. The University of London study found that urbanites who cycled to work had 2.3 times more black carbon in their lungs than pedestrians.

Previous research has shown that black carbon is linked to a wide range of serious health issues, including reduced lung function and a higher risk of respiratory diseases and heart attacks. What's an avid city cyclist to do? Consider using a facemask, which experts told the BBC could be an effective way of reducing exposure, as long as the mask fits correctly.

Previous studies carried out in Beijing have found that wearing a well-fitted face mask could reduce risks of exposure to particulate pollution, the report said. Also, opt for roads with less traffic, or travel during times of day when there is less congestion, and avoid riding behind diesel-powered buses or trucks.

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